A few weeks ago, Neos Kosmos reported on a mystery recording by Johnny O’Keefe. Unearthed by the curator of an online exhibition for the National Film and Sound Archives, recounting the work and legacy of the Australian rock ‘n’ roll pioneer, the recording – a private pressing on a (lacquered) record – is a rarity among the singer’s work, as it features him singing in Greek.
Given that it is the only recording of O’Keefe in any language other than English and that it is obviously a live recording, it has triggered theories and speculation, as researchers and archivists thoroughly seek any information available to shed light to the mystery.
Enter Olga Yiannopoulos, daughter of a prominent member of the Greek community of Sydney and Melbourne, George Yiannopoulos (Young). The restless businessman had been deeply involved in the music industry, importing records from EMI Greece, under an exclusive contract, before launching his own label Apollo.
“I was born in music and grew up surrounded by Greek records,” remembers his daughter. “My father used to work with every Greek record company and he had managed to record the biggest stars of Greek song, such as Stelios Kazantzidis and Nikos Gounaris. As a teenager, I wasn’t very interested in all this, I was into rock ‘n’ roll, as were my friends and schoolmates, so I was urging him to put out more records like the ones Johnny O’Keefe was doing.”
Apparently, George Yiannopoulos did listen to his daughter and was in a position to make things happen. After all, his store, Stanley Young, an emporium that was a hub for the Sydney Greek community, selling everything Greek, was next to R.M. O’Keefe & Co, a furniture store, owned by Raymond O’ Keefe, Johnny’s father. The two men were on very good terms, so George asked Raymond to tell his son to pass by Stanley Young next time he would be in the neighbourhood.
“When Johnny O’ Keefe entered our store, I couldn’t believe my eyes,” remembers Olga, but the real surprise came when she heard her father urging the singer, who was at the height of his popularity at the time, to sing in Greek. The two of them started toying around with the idea, with the Greek businessman improvising Greek lyrics to one of the pop hits of the day, Starlight Starbright, renaming it Astrofeggia, much to popstar’s amusement.
“He was very well-mannered and good spirited and very respectful of my father.”
The meeting ended in mirth, but the seed was planted. Apparently, Australia’s rock’n’roll pioneer followed the businessman’s advice, and came up with a version of To Love in Greek, in order to sing it at his many Greek friends’ functions.
As for the specific recording featured in the NFSA online exhibition, it is still surrounded in mystery.
Anyone interested in listening to it can find it at www.nfsa.gov.au/visit-us/exhibitions-presentations/JOK/